Will Latu, a native of St. Petersburg, Fla., played his single year of high school football in his hometown, then traveled to South Dakota for a redshirt year at a Division II school before landing at College of the Canyons in California in 2010. He'll play his second year of junior college ball for the Cougars this fall, then move most of the way back across the country for his final two years at West Virginia.
"When I was growing up I didn't think football was for me," he said of his late start with the game. "My relatives and siblings all played, and they were always on me to play, but I'd tell them 'No, I don't want to, I can't do it. ' But after a while, I realized that it was the key to get out and make something of myself and make my family proud, so I decided to play when I was a senior."
Despite a body built for the game, Latu didn't attract a great deal of recruiting attention during his one year on the field. He admitted this was a big reason he didn't receive any Division I offers, and so decided to attend Northwestern State in South Dakota, where he redshirted in 2009.
"That was an experience," he said with a laugh. "But I thought I could do better, and when I looked around College of the Canyons was a natural. I had traveled out to Cali [California] a lot, because I have relatives there, and my uncle was a coach there so that was sort of a natural. That was the best decision I have made. I started every game my freshman year, and things have worked out great."
Latu had a baker's dozen of offers, including Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas State, Boise State, Florida International, Kansas State, Louisville, New Mexico, Oregon State, Rutgers, West Virginia, USF and Utah. At last report, he was considering taking visits before making his decision, but decided, after conversations with his family, to get his college choice out of the way.
"It was just the best fit out of all the offers," he said of his reasoning. "I wanted to get it done, and West Virginia was the best one for me. I thought it through, and talked it over with my family, and we all agreed. Coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who was my recruiting coach, was one of my two favorites, along with the offensive line coach at Oregon State. With Coach B, I just love the way he coaches He is a good guy, and he keeps it real. He tells it like it is, and he doesn't sugarcoat it. I respect him for that. It's the same way with my uncle. They tell you straight up what they are thinking."
Latu has not visited West Virginia, yet, but plans to remedy that on Oct. 8, when the Cougars have an open date and the Mountaineers host Connecticut. He hopes to follow that up with a permanent move to West Virginia a couple of months later.
"I do hope to finish up in December, so I can be there for spring practice," the genial lineman said. "It's looking good right now. I'm taking classes this summer, and if I keep everything on track, I should be finished in December. The worst case would be that I graduate in the spring."
Even though he has just two years' experience on the field, Latu has shown potential to attract scholarship offers from across the country. He is confident in what he has achieved so far, but is by no means resting on those accomplishments.
"I have a lot to improve on," he said. "I am not perfect, but I think I know things about the game. I want to improve. When I go out there, I just try to play to my highest ability and help us put points on the board. I try to be the nastiest guy on the field. I want to make those defensive ends not want to play against me any more."
Despite his Tongan surname, Latu is a native of Florida. His family came to the U.S. from Tonga two years before he was born, first landing in California before moving to Florida.
"There aren't many Polynesian guys at West Virginia, so I wanted to be one of the first, to set the trend there and create a legacy," he said.
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While Latu doesn't know anyone with WVU ties, he was familiar with Jock Sanders, who hailed from his hometown.
"That's how I first learned about West Virginia, from watching Jock there," he said.